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The provincial government, desperate for some good economic news, has certainly been high on tourism recently. "If we look to the future...

The provincial government, desperate for some good economic news, has certainly been high on tourism recently. "If we look to the future... one thing stands out — tourism," Premier Glen Clark said last week at a press conference where he handed over two cheques — one from Tourism Vancouver — to support the bid to bring the 2010 Winter Olympics to Vancouver and Whistler. The press conference came two days after an announcement that more than 11,000 new jobs were created in tourism and tourism-related businesses in 1997. "When we created Tourism British Columbia as a Crown corporation last April, Premier Clark set the industry target of 25,000 new tourism-related jobs by 2001," Tourism Minister Ian Waddell said in a release. "In just one year we are nearly half way there — a terrific tribute to the hard work of Tourism BC and our thriving tourism industry." Finance Minister Joy MacPhail undoubtedly had some insight into the tourism job numbers prior to her March 30 budget speech, when she called tourism "one of the strongest and most important sectors of our economy..." Yet, for all the recent praise for tourism, it’s still the ministry with the smallest annual budget. When the province established Tourism B.C. as a Crown corporation last year it actually cut the budget from $24 million in 1996 to $18 million. Tourism BC’s funding is based on a percentage of the provincial hotel tax; as room nights grow the Crown corporation’s budget will increase, so there is incentive for the industry to do well. And Victoria did listen to the industry when it established Tourism BC, an industry-led marketing and information body. The tourism industry wanted the freedom to form partnerships and raise marketing funds with the private sector. It got that freedom, has made those partnerships and that has contributed to the 11,000 new jobs last year. So too did the weak Canadian dollar, the Open Skies agreement and the entrepreneurship of thousands of businesses, both large and small. But tourism is also becoming increasingly competitive, both within Canada and internationally. Marketing efforts have to be strategic and maintain flexibility as markets change. The industry itself, through Tourism BC, is able to target markets and make adjustments when necessary far more efficiently than a government bureaucracy could. If the province wants to see this sector of an otherwise crippled economy continue to flourish it should keep impediments such as taxes, inflexible labour laws and bureaucratic red tape out of the way. This government doesn’t seem likely to introduce taxes on "luxury" items such as restaurant meals, ski lift tickets and green fees, as the Harcourt government was rumoured to want to do, but there is plenty of opportunity to improve the labour code, resolve backcountry recreation issues and reduce existing taxes. The industry has shown what it can do when given a chance.